12 – 16 November @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by Steamworks Arts ·
World Premiere | Presented by PICA and Performing Lines WA
Through your eyes, I see myself 透過你的雙眼, 我領悟了自己
Come on a contemplative journey through the streets, suburbs and open spaces of Taipei and Perth. Devised by an extraordinary interdisciplinary team, each performance of 歸屬 Gui Shu (Belong) fuses dance, music, sound and video projections live on stage. The result of a 4-year intercultural exchange, this moving new work by Steamworks Arts asks how our understanding of self and home are shaped by our experiences with others.
歸屬 Gui Shu (Belong) is an invitation to reflect on moments of isolation, connection and finding your way.
22 October – 22 December
PICA Reading Room
Duration: 8 minutes
View the 歸屬 Gui Shu (Belong) video installation, a sweeping history of the project so far, featuring scenes from Taiwan and Western Australia.
AWESOME Review: The Listies, ROFLSHALBOWCO ·
PICA, 9 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
Every now and then a show comes along with a title so long and so accurate that it’s a reviewer’s dream, because there’s nothing much more needs to be said about it.
It’s money for jam.
So here come The Listies, Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins, or, in the spirit of this year’s Awesome Festival, the Orange One (Matt) and the Blue One (Richard). Their show is called Roll On the Floor Laughing So Hard A Little Bit Of Wee Comes Out.
Need I say more?
Not really, but I will (a little bit). Matt and Richard are very funny guys (especially Matt, who’s a loony, but Richard is pretty funny too, for a straight man).
It’s got farts, lots of mess, a costume horse that’s a dinosaur, farting, bubbles, lullabies (of doooooooom), pretend wee and a large emoji poo, misbehaviour of many kinds and farts. All stuff that kids love.
It’s also got the first line from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the one about Grigor Samsa waking up one morning to find he’d become an insect, which went right over the heads of the grown-ups in the room but was deeply appreciated by the kids, who all know it by heart.
It’s 50 minutes jam-packed with ecstatic kid’s stuff, and clever as all get-out. Guaranteed to leave the little monsters (4 – 9, I’d guess) exhausted with laughter. And, just maybe, a tiny bit wet.
Junior reviews by Gabriel Bott (10) and Sascha Bott (8)
ROFLSHALBOWCO was made by The Listies – Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly – a comedy duo from Melbourne, who are funny and interactive with the audience.
ROFLSHALBOWCO is an amazing show for all ages and is great for people to get involved in. It is about Rich and Matt having people over at their house (which is the audience). They have a to-do list that needs to be completed while the visitors are over. Two of the things on the list are already ticked off, but one of them isn’t; Beddy Byes. One problem, Matt doesn’t want to go to bed yet, so he tries to do everything he can, NOT to go to bed.
I don’t have anything negative to say about this show. The Listies’ show had all different possibilities of events that might actually happen in real life. For example, Rich’s plant was growing perfectly well, but Matt’s was just a stick with a leaf stuck to it. You could probably imagine that happening if you got mad your plant wasn’t growing well.
Secondly, it was just plain funny, everything about it was funny. Even their characters were funny. Matt’s voice was funny. Rich’s moustache was funny. The way they made every possible thing into something funny was so clever.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the way they got everyone in the audience to join in. Little kids were getting up on stage and dancing. It was just a great atmosphere to be in. If I was to give a rating out of ten, it would be a 10/10.
ROFLSHALBOWCO is a comedy show by Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins, known as The Listies, and was part of the AWSOME Arts Festival. In the show we saw Richard try to help Matt get to sleep because he’s not tired. Somehow, they made all of Richard’s ideas into hilarious jokes. For example, Richard decided to ask people their favourite books for Matt to read, but Matt wrote down funny and silly titles instead of the real ones.
My favourite bit was when Matt was emptying Richard’s tidy, clean and organised sock drawer – he kept saying, “Thank it and send it on its way! Thank it and send it on its way!”
I also liked how Richard told Matt a funny version of Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack and the Beans Talk. Richard’s version was fall of funny twists (such as when Jack touched the golden duck, aliens attacked him).
I really liked the show and think lots of parents and children would love it to.
AWESOME Review: Arch 8, Tetris ⋅
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, October 8 ⋅
Review by David Zampatti ⋅
I can’t claim I’m familiar with Tetris, despite its status as one of the greatest of all video games since the Russian Alexey Pajitnov completed it in 1984, when many of the parents of the kids in the audience at PICA hadn’t been born.
I do know Rubik’s Cube, though, and Twister, and Stack, and all the other games the strong, agile, funny and empathetic dancers Ivan Ugrin, Paulien Truijen, Lorenzo Capodieci and Zahira Suliman from Erik Kaiel’s Dutch company Arch 8 have brought to this year’s Awesome Festival.
The four performers (who I suspect the kids will remember, Wiggles style, as the Orange One, the Green One, the Red One and the Blue One) work their bodies through intricate recreations of the games, like organisms that fit together and break – or slide – apart.
The technical skill and the load-bearing strength of all four is remarkable. Even the hops that propel them from set-up to set-up on the bare black stage remind me of excruciating hours of judo classes at the YMCA of my childhood.
Kaiel’s choreography is tight as a drum, with an energy bordering on violent, and the kids and their wranglers were spellbound.
Even when some of them got just a little twitchy during the concluding Rubik’s Cube routine, it was soon forgotten as the performers ran and clambered amok through the audience and then led most of them onstage for a exuberant all-in finale.
5 October @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by Ashley Yihsin Chang and Yi-Chung Lo ·
Installing Environment: Responding to Social, Industrial, & Economic Landscapes.
World economies and their impact on the cultures and landscapes we live in are progressively taking front and centre in news, current affairs, and especially the minds of artists. Yi-Chun Lo is a strong example – exploring these relationships and presenting her findings through depictions of exported raw materials and crops to better understand their role of economy in culture.
PICA is honoured to host Yi-Chun Lo as part of upcoming exhibition Unfolding Acts and as part of a pre-exhibition welcome, we join curator and artist for an in-depth discussion. Guest Curator Ashley Yihsin Chang will facilitate an in-conversation with Yi-Chun Lo to discuss research-based practice in producing installations that respond to the social, industrial, and economic landscapes of specific geographies in this critical insight into “Installing Environment”
28 September @ Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Presented by Layli Rashkha ·
Join us from 3pm to 4pm for Layli Rakhsha’s Open Studio entitled “Between Places”, where she will guide us through the techniques, triumphs and challenges of her creative process – as well as show us the incredible work she has completed during her residency. Explore with through Layli Rakhsha’s work how home can be defined by personal, social, and cultural experiences and relationships.
Review: Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’ & Nicholas Mangan, ‘Termite Economies (Phase One)’ ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·
Forming a deep and rich understanding of the recent past can be difficult. Our ability for retrospection often improves as we travel a greater temporal distance. The two latest exhibitions from Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, however, turn this notion on its head.
Spanning PICA’s Ground Floor Galleries, “Trying to find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” is the culmination of a research project into the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art led by Australian contemporary artist Agatha Gothe-Snape.
A rare gem, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is Australia’s only public women’s art collection. This exhibition signifies its first public return to PICA since 1995 and creatively re-examines some of the collection’s foundational narratives of domesticity, still-life and self-representation.
The show includes artworks from the Cruthers Collection and new works produced by Gothe-Snape in response, giving the collection breathing room as if it were a living, conscious being. Cruthers Collection curator Gemma Weston, who collaborated with Gothe-Snape on this project, aptly describes the exhibition as “a dream the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art itself might have, if it were able to”.
In this dream-like mode, a viewer can (and should) navigate the space intuitively, first entering through Gothe-Snape’s installation Certain Situations/ EXPRESSION CURTAIN (2013). Previously acquired by the Cruthers Collection, the work is comprised of a large makeshift wall with a cut-out doorway in which a patterned yellow curtain hangs. Among other things, the installation draws attention to the performative nature of engaging with art objects in the show.
Some artists featured from the Cruthers Collection include Elise Blumann, Penny Bovell, Susanna Castleden, Penny Coss, Rosalie Gascoigne, Eveline Kotai, Ann Newmarch, Miriam Stannage and Mei Swan Lim. Their work spans across painting, textiles, print, drawing, sound and media. Within this myriad of expression, layers upon layers of meaning accrue which regrettably cannot be expressed in full here. However, the central feature which must be mentioned is the work from which the exhibition takes its title, and one of Gothe-Snape’s new responsive works.
In the centre of the space, a large platform displays a number of chairs loaned from exhibiting artists – the chair chosen had to be one in which the artist has found comfort. Some torn and frayed, some splattered with paint or just a skeleton of what once was, the borrowed chairs so beautifully manifest the artist’s presence through the object alone. Accompanied by Gothe-Snape’s letters to the artists requesting the chairs, we are invited to see the objects as a symptom of all their experiences. Through this, we immerse ourselves in one large connective web of shared feeling, experience and memory across time and space.
Upstairs, Nicholas Mangan’s “Termite Economies (Phase One)” brings the viewer back down to earth with a less whimsical aesthetic of insects and brown dirt. Mangan’s work is also the culmination of a research project. In this case, the Australian science agency CSIRO investigated termite behaviour in the hope their industrious methods might assist humans in their pursuit of gold.
Occupying a much smaller and contained space, nightmarish rather than dream-like, the dimly lit room accentuates the stark artificiality of the bay lights which illuminate Mangan’s earthy termite sculptures from above. The organic forms have been rendered by a 3D printing process and are cross-sectioned to reveal inner passages; human innovation and research meets animal instinct.
These sculptures provide an access point to thinking about recent capitalist pursuit, economic viability and its reflection on society’s behavior and motivation. We may well imagine ourselves as these little termite colonies and speculate on possible futures. Accompanying the sculptures, retro monitors play archival and recorded footage of termite activity, showing the termites at work and also at a cellular level. The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary objects and visuals position the ideas explored as trans-historical, looking at the past in less rigid and more speculative, all-encompassing ways.
Perhaps the resounding point over all is that a focus on the embodied experience of objects and the contested ideas they encompass may provide a deeper understanding the recent past and present moment. These two exhibitions are not to be rushed through and are made all the more meaningful if the viewer is committed to their own participation, thinking and research into the objects before them.
Review: Joshua Pether, Jupiter Orbiting ·
PICA, 24 May ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·
Two years since its initial development at PICA for premiere at Next Wave Festival 2018, emerging choreographer/performer Joshua Pether’s experimental solo work Jupiter Orbiting returned to the PICA Performance Space. Seeing the work for the first time, I was captivated by the organic scope of its images and tones. Pether nonchalantly passes between aesthetics of kitsch, surrealism and expressionism, bending and at times erupting the language of the performance. The offbeat array of costuming, props, and other visuals, – including shadows, garish children’s cartoons and the projected words of a probing psychiatrist – build a world simultaneously tender and blunt.
For me, however, the most memorable aspect of Jupiter Orbiting was the painstaking honesty with which Pether examines the light and dark of trauma. As someone with a lived experience of psychosis and dissociation, I began to witness myself in Pether’s performance. This sense of familiarity, of coming home is not something I’ve experience previously in the context of an arts institution.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen debasing and twisted depictions of myself and other neurodivergent and disabled people on the walls of modern art galleries and on the stages of acclaimed theatres. Every sensationalised misrepresentation of our personhood is another powerful brick laid in the dense systemic social structure of ableism: an insidious kyriarchy excluding myself and too many others from education, work, meaningful relationships, and other kinds of basic agency, especially when combined with inaccessible capitalism (poverty) and traumas of colonial violence.
While non-disabled artists profit from the perceived melodrama of our lived experiences, art institutions construct precarious societies where self-definition and simple cultural safety have been rare finds for me and for other disabled artists, particularly those of us with the added vulnerabilities of being emerging practitioners in the field.
Jupiter Orbiting gives audiences a critical opportunity to witness some of our experiences of neurodivergence, through the vision of a disabled artist telling his own stories. For me, it was astoundingly empowering to see parts of myself acknowledged and given space without censorship or stigma, or indeed any of the prejudice which led to a number of significant others in my life (friends that others could not see or hear) hospitalised and medicated away non-consensually as a minor, because they were deemed no more than hallucinations. These are intense losses I’ve never been permitted to grieve. To observe Pether embodying obsessive compulsiveness as he meticulously arranges plastic toys on a white tabletop, or to see his numbness, alternative realities, and loss of control during the performance was to witness neurodivergence through its own mind, with a brazenly real voice.
Viewing such performance can be difficult. Whilst I watched the sombre, shadowy epilogue of the work with a wide and teary smile, uplifted in my welcoming of past selves, there are many who would prefer to look the other way when faced with such rawness of trauma and profoundly othered experience. Many believe that psychosis and dissociation are best hidden away from view of a public consciousness inundated with fear and tyrannical notions of bodily, racial, and class superiority.
Certainly, many authoritative powers within the arts industry continue to assert that our stories and our art are best handled by non-disabled practitioners, as directors or even as lead artists. The advantage or harmfulness of telling other people’s stories depends on context, but, nonetheless, speaking for or over disabled people from a position of power is an over-represented trope of modern and contemporary art. It perpetuates oppressive cycles of privileging non-disabled voices and marking out images of disabled people through a lens of an intergenerational fear we are very far from unlearning.
My hope is that through witnessing more works like Jupiter Orbiting and other declarations of neurodivergent self-definition in all its plastic and spectral glory, the arts will learn to greet us with love and freedom, granting us the same recognition and value as it does nondisabled artists using our stories. Indeed, Jupiter Orbiting already facilitates space for neurodivergents like myself to honour and witness ourselves without shame, denial or despondency, a space for us to be who we really are and radically dream of healing and understanding together.
Jupiter Orbiting is an ardent and honest investigation of Pether’s realities and impressions of the past, performed with copious life force and brilliant candour. It is an unmatched strength to both the contemporary performance art locale and the ongoing liberation work of the neurodivergent community.
Review: Louise Devenish, ‘Sheets of Sound’ ⋅
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, June 28 ⋅
Review by Eduardo Cossio ⋅
“Sheets of sound” is how jazz critic Ira Glitter described the brisk, muscular playing of John Coltrane in the late fifties. Taking a literal, but also contrasting approach, Sheets of Sounds by Louise Devenish explored the sonic properties of paper, metal and plastic in ways that were tactile and visually sculptural. Three new commissions brought together the different strands of her practice in recent years; namely, electro-acoustic music, new instrument designs, and the intersection of performance art with theatre.
Percipience: After Kaul by Devenish and Decibel New Music Ensemble colleague, Stuart James, made use of the “overtone triangle”; a set-up developed by the German percussionist Matthias Kaul. Three triangles hung from a metal frame with wires connected to Styrofoam balls that amplified their sounds. A sort of etude on metallic timbres, the techniques used made the triangles vibrate, modulate, and decay in singing-like undulations throughout the structure. There were echoes of gamelan in the insistent beating patterns and dissonant overtones, while the meter-less sections brought attention to the delicate drones in the electronic backing. Percipience created a whimsical world for an often-overlooked instrument, and the piece’s title seemed apt for a work where the artist’s personality is key to its realisation.
During his tenure with Speak Percussion, Melbourne composer Matthias Schack-Arnott became known for developing percussive instruments of striking visual design. In the tradition of Harry Partch, the 20th century maverick whose creations demanded novel playing techniques, Shack-Arnott’s motorized instruments pit the performer against a mechanical flow of energy. Catacomb Body Double is for two amplified bass drums as well as a myriad of objects including glass, knives, and cymbals. The work is inspired by Catholic iconography around the exhumation of early Christian martyrs. Devenish brushed two knives against the drum skins, creating a wash of effects reminiscent of magnetic tape played backwards. Different objects were placed on the drum’s surface and their quick succession built up the kinetic energy of the piece: glasses, bells and wooden frames were made to rattle and rub against the skins, evoking the excavation-like imagery of the work. Arresting for its visuals and for Devenish’s gestural playing, the piece did lose some its impact towards the end when the material became a tad predictable due to its repetition.
Permeating through the pores of shifting planes by the Pittsburgh-based composer, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, is a performance-installation whereby physical gesture is as important as the resulting sounds. Large sheets of metal and paper hung from the ceiling, reflecting the dim lights in the room. Sitting on the floor, Devenish started by pouring rice on hard surfaces, creating swells of hushed and minute sounds. The tactile gestures were then transferred to the creasing of paper and the beating of metal sheets with various mallets. Devenish’s knack for duration, pace, and mood made these simple actions fascinating to follow.
The piece was a rare opportunity to see the ever-consummate Devenish explore a more intimate approach to performance; the focus was not on traditional notions of musical virtuosity but on the humanity of the performer, their body, and the space they inhabit. The technically accomplished piece also featured a set of speakers that made the paper sheets vibrate, while electronic tones modulated in coarse timbres or slowed down to soft pulses. Devenish’s performance felt generous; it seemed to draw audiences into the quiet dramaturgy of the work’s unfolding.
Sheets of Sound represented an assertion of Devenish’s artistic interests and work ethic. The relationships she has developed with these composers, all of them present for the premieres, spoke of an approach to music making that is collaborative and relational. It followed then that the performances conveyed some of that fluidity and openness to the audience.
Pictured top: Louise Devenish Performs “Permeating Through the Pores of Shifting Planes” by Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh. Photo by Nik Babic.
Review: Rachel Arianne Ogle, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night ·
PICA, 5 June ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·
Rachel Arianne Ogle’s superb precipice concludes with a reveal at the back of the darkened stage, where a curtain draws open to show an intensely glowing, curved wall situated at the rear of a small box, within which stands a sun-struck dancer. i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night takes this image and turns it into a short, stand-alone performance installation, with glitchie live electronic music from Luke Smiles and a blindingly purist lighting design and luminescent projections from Benjamin Cisterne.
Smiles, Ogle and Cisterne build here on the optical games and devices that immediately preceded cinema proper, such as the spinning, slotted zoetrope, or the carefully lit and crafted panoramas and moving dioramas of the nineteenth century. Cisterne has previously experimented with patterned moiré effects in lighting with his design for Sydney Dance Company’s 2 One Another (2012). Robin Fox’s use of digital projection and intense, immersive digital noise for Chunky Move is clearly another influence (Smiles previously danced with Chunky Move), as is, presumably, the regular to DarkMofo and the Melbourne Festival, Ryoji Ikeda, with his supra-minimal techno and lighting works for dance and installation. The strongest resonance, though, is with the landmark Morphia series, which dancer Helen Herbertson created with designer Ben Cobham of Bluebottle in the early 2000s, featuring an often agitated, naked Herbertson suspended in a blacker than black space, housed in a glowing white box.
The movement of i have loved the stars too fondly is, however, more minimal than Herbertson’s intimate gestures. Halfway through i have loved the stars too fondly, there is a blink-and-you-miss it section in which Ogle briefly tilts onto an extreme angle and folds herself onto the floor, legs protruding above her, whilst lit by a totalising, white wash. Elsewhere she ever-so-unsteadily walks slowly and with very small steps down the centre line from the back of to the front and then back again. She is, therefore, more object than dancer, more a sculpture than a human.
The sheer over-stimulation of optical and aural signals means that the audience’s perception itself begins to warp (as in a zoetrope or Ikeda’s installations). As the sound pummels us (featuring, for a period, some of the most intense bass thuds I have heard outside of the work of Fox or Decibel), and as the light excoriates Ogle from behind, there are times where it seems she may be perhaps mouthing a silent cry. But the solarisation about her head and shoulders, and the silhouette effect it produces, is such that one cannot be certain.
The framing of the performer within i have loved the stars too fondly, therefore, echoes the work of performance artist Stelarc, who insists on calling himself “the body,” signalling his status an entirely impersonal, fleshy sensate unit sewn into a non-human, technological system. The effect, then, is that the body itself is almost blown apart, shattered and digitised (think the origin of Dr Manhattan in Watchmen). This is the techno-digital sublime in the extreme, producing a mildly terrifying feeling of euphoria and amazement. In the most impressive visual effect within the production, when Ogle stands at the front of the stage, the rapid shifts in the colour and directionality of the light create the illusion of up to six or eight shadowy figures, arrayed in a semi-circle before us, each swimming into existence as its predecessor is blown away by the lighting.
This effect is staged early in the piece, and to some degree the dramaturgy has nowhere else to go. The distorted white dots on the back wall are patterned according to random transmissions picked up while the show is in progress. As Ogle moves away from us in this slightly more forgiving light-and-sound world, one is tempted to read this as a return of the human after its technological auto-da-fé.
But closure is denied and she keeps her back to us. The conclusion seems to arise out of its duration more than it does out of any musical or choreographic evolution per se. While it seemed a shame to end on a whimper rather than a bang, precipice and i have loved the stars represent the sort of work which drew me to dance in the first place: austere, formal, painstaking, and scenographically brilliant – two of the best movement works of 2019.
Thanks to funding constraints, it’s rare to see a body of work by one independent choreographer, and even rarer to see independent works remounted. In the next two weeks, however, Perth audiences will be have the chance to experience both. A remount of Rachel Arianne Ogle’s 2014 work precipice, will be closely followed by a season of its 2019 sequel, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Nina Levy sat down with Ogle to learn more.
Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did theconcept for this work come into being? Rachel Arianne Ogle:precipice began as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. In my own movement practice I have always explored a physicality of being off balance – generating and riding momentum, falling and surrendering weight to gravity – to take risk and play more in the extremes of the unknown. This physicality informed my creative interests for this work. As I explored a series of physical provocations through movement, the larger concepts of the work began to reveal themselves to me. I have always been fascinated with space and the universe, and as the movement ideas developed it became apparent these concepts were all very much alive in the work. From there the work began to guide me, and tell me what it was about.
NL: And talk me through the creative process of making that work… RAO: When I began to create precipice, I had no ambition to be a choreographer. But I had arrived at a point in my artistic life where I had some ideas that I was curious to play with and, for the first time, I felt like I was ready to do that with some bodies in space that weren’t my own. It was really the first time that I had stepped out from being on the inside, in an attempt to explore something, which shifted my focus considerably.
I would often start with a simple image, and then allow that image to invite my imagination and intuition to guide me, while offering the perspective of being the outside eye to what was unfolding. It was only at the end of the first stage development, that I realised I was making a show. From there, it continued to grow for two and half years before we arrived at the premiere season in 2014.
NL: It’s not often that independent works get a second outing. What’s it been like remounting the work? RAO: It is an incredible privilege, so rarely afforded to an independent artist, to be able to revisit work in repertoire. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to reflect on where I have come from, and to consider the work in the context of, and relevance to, my creative present. I see my history, my lineage, and my influences in this work – but I also see a moment in time when I was beginning to unearth and trust my own creative voice, and my crafting of ideas.
The opportunity to be back working with the dancers, and to see how far they have come in the five years since we premiered… their own maturing as artists and performers brings a whole new depth to the work. At the same time, new cast members hold me accountable to justifying the work and the decisions I have made within it, as we transmit the information to new bodies. It has been a very short and intense remount period, but an incredibly joyful and rewarding one.
NL: Your design team for the two works (Luke Smiles – sound composition and Benjamin Cisterne – visual design) is a dream team. How did you come to work with these two creatives? RAO:Ben, Luke and I all worked together with Melbourne dance company, Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, so we had been friends for many years. Luke is also a dancer, and he and I performed together in one of Phillip’s shows for which Ben was lighting designer, which we all toured to the US in 2007. Alongside his career as a dancer, Luke always had his parallel career as a composer/sound designer, through which he has a long history of collaborating with Ben. I had always thought that if I ever created work, I would love to have them both as the design team. To be honest, I think I just got lucky that when that time came, they both said yes.
NL: Did you always envisage a sequel to precipice? How did the idea for i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night have come about? RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night began from a design concept that has a momentary presence in precipice. During the production week in the theatre for precipice in 2014, my design collaborators – Ben and Luke – and myself, began to discuss the potential for that design element to have a show of its own. So it started from there, and the work became a response to the design. Because the design element was born from precipice, it always felt very connected to that work. And conceptually the work continues the themes of where precipice arrives at its end, but also takes it in a different direction… like going down a different worm hole. It very much feels like an offer of what comes next, or like “the other side” of precipice – therein being its sequel.
NL: What made you decide to make a solo work this time? RAO:i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night was always going to be a work for a solo performer, I think, largely due to the design concept we were working with and what felt appropriate for that. It never felt like a question that the performer would be me. This work is incredibly personal to me so I felt like somehow I didn’t have a choice in it… the work had already demanded that it come directly through me to the audience.
NL: And talk me through that creative process… RAO: We watched a lot of science fiction films! And had many nerd discussions about space stuff… like black holes, the warping and manipulation of time and space, death, and what lies beyond. These filmic references unconsciously and inevitably fed into the work. During the first development we kept finding ourselves sitting for long periods of time just watching the lights and sound interact with the installation. We eventually realised that this hypnotic state that we were being drawn into was the experience we wanted for the audience. Once we made that decision it was about shaping and refining the elements to create that experience, and exploring the relationship of the body to that environment. Placing the body inside of the installation added the human element and completely shifted the perspective. The interaction of the body with the moving lights in front of the installation, created a visual illusion, distorting the perception of the reality the viewer is seeing. It was quite a magical discovery, and for me that sense of warping reality is really the essence of the work.
Choreographically, I originally started developing some improvisation scores, exploring different qualities and textures, and states of transition. However the more we explored the dialogue of the body with the installation, the more we realised that I needed to do less. So it became a process of stripping back. The choreography became quite distilled, but very rigorous in terms of the tension and focus in the body.
We further developed the work during a residency at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre) in New York in 2017. We continued to develop these ideas by integrating a live feed of radio communications from different airports around the world, which directly manipulates the lights and the sound. Ben and Luke then respond to this stimulus in real-time, shaping the already moving lights and sound into an improvised score and structure. So they are live onstage with me creating the design in real-time, and the work is slightly different every performance as a result.
NL: What’s next after these back-to-back seasons? RAO: I am currently developing a new work, which is my most ambitious to date in terms of scale and vision. I am planning a design development for this work later this year, and will undertake a larger development with the dancers early in 2020. I will also be creating a smaller site-specific work in Tasmania in August, and undertaking some international travel to participate in a 3 month intensive improvisation project in Brussels later in the year. I’m dreaming up lots of new projects at the moment… so stay tuned!